Apparently, there has been much scuttlebutt, rumor, innuendo, and speculation about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s sexual orientation. Among the proffered evidence for this speculation is the fact that she’s a woman of a certain age without a husband or children. The coup de grace is that she was recently pictured on the front page of the Wall Street Journal playing softball (33 years ago), and as everyone knows all women who play softball are lesbians. And if you weren’t a lesbian when you joined the team, softball will make you a lesbian. True fax, yo!
Some folks believe it’s their right to know all kinds of personal information about various governmental employees, current and prospective, because their personal life and experiences will necessarily inform how they legislate or rule from the bench. To a certain extent, one might expect that to be true, except for the fact that it isn’t always.
A lot of people who have no particular objection on principle to people who are gay say “It’s a simple enough question; just answer it, and we’ll move on.” Except for the fact that it’s nobody’s business. Except for the fact that straight people are neither asked about their sexual preference (because it’s assumed) nor expected to hold a press conference about it. Except for the fact that we won’t move on.
It’s natural to be curious about people’s lives; however, curiosity doesn’t equal entitlement to answers. And it’s irrelevant anyway; I’m more interested in how people behave and what they say in their public capacity about the issues I’m interested in, how they actually vote when given the opportunity to take a stand, or the decisions they make in court. What they do in their personal life is not pertinent; how they wield power in their professional life is, and one’s personal life does not necessarily telegraph how they will do this. I am not a mother, but I care deeply about the welfare of children. I taught school for many years. I vote for school bond passage, and will vote for a sales tax increase next week that will, among other things, provide funding for public education, though I have no children that will benefit from these measures. And one of my very own (former) representatives is openly (if quietly) gay, and as a Republican senator he regularly votes against his own interests as a gay man. I’d like to read Kagan’s thoughts on civil rights in general, including gay rights; it is there that I’ll know her intentions once she’s sitting on the bench.
I also can say that never once have I been asked, or felt the need, to announce my heterosexuality, even when I didn’t have this handsome man on my arm. I suppose there have been situations where people have wondered whether or assumed I was a lesbian, but if I noticed, I felt no need to correct them, because it wasn’t anyone’s business. (See above.) Pretty much no one has cared, and you know, that’s really the point. No one should care. Your sexual preference is really only important information between you and people whom you are wooing, or who may be wooing you. It doesn’t bother me if someone thinks I’m gay; it’s not something negative to me. I think Kagan’s friends who are coming out of the woodwork to proclaim that she’s straight really took the wrong tack. In doing so, they perpetuated two pretty ugly mindsets: 1) that it IS people’s business whom you choose to partner with in life and in bed, and 2) that being called gay is an accusation (and by implication, an insult,) that requires a defense. The nosy haters won that round; it’s hard to make something the non-issue it should be when you are complicit in making it an issue.
And finally, the nosy haters won’t be appeased if they get their answer. Those who need an answer to the question have an agenda to begin with; if they didn’t, they wouldn’t care to ask. Montezuma thought if he just gave Cortés what he wanted, he’d go away, but that’s not how it ever works, especially around issues of sexuality. If Kagan is gay, a large, addle-brained portion of Americans will commence to hating her out of hand as a deviant. If she is not, a subset of that portion won’t believe it anyway, and there will be 300 chain e-mails going around pouring gasoline on the fires of bigoted outrage that will not only question her sexuality, but her religion and whether she’s a citizen, not to mention the lesbian conspiracy that will force all straight American men to get better at oral sex, Americans in general to buy Subarus, and all American girl children to learn how to play softball and use tools.
It is Kagan’s responsibility to make her public papers and opinions known to the Senate who will confirm her and the public who will have to live with her if she gets the job, but with the understanding that judges are selected, ostensibly, for their judgment and knowledge of the law as it applies to the situation at hand, and therefore will do what they think is correct; past performance is the best, but not an iron-clad, indicator of future performance. Beyond that, unless she’s a secret criminal, Kagan’s personal life is only pertinent to those who would use it to attack her to influence the wrong-headed folks who would see it as something worth attacking. Personally, I don’t think she, or anyone else, should give them the satisfaction of an answer.